Negotiating: The power of paper

Negotiating: The power of paper

Following on from the last article, another power in negotiating is paper. What I'm referring to here is being organised and documented. You see people say a lot of things in negotiations that are purely designed to get you to do what they want to do. They'll use anecdotes ("The same thing happened to a friend of mine"), statistics ("I read that 78% of people experience this") experience ("The vast majority of my clients had this happen to them") and, let's face it, flat out lies ("The opposition won't do this for you"). If you want to see raw fear flash across a salesperson's face, ask them where they got their statistic from. It's cruel but kinda funny.

One way to avoid these hackneyed approaches is to put it in writing. When buyers are presented with documents they take them seriously (a bit like the way people used to take electronic media with a grain of salt but believe everything they read in the paper - if only we could skip back to that era). If previous buyers have experienced the same thing, get a testimonial. If your statistics are legit, put them on paper. If your product is better than the oppositions, lay it all out in a comparison chart showing what you offer and what they don't. 

Putting it in writing is powerful. Buyers take documents seriously because they understand that they're binding, for them and the seller. Just ask Frank Abagnale, the man upon whom the book and movie 'Catch me if you can' is based. Abagnale was a gifted young conman who led the FBI on a merry dance in the 1970s. Abagnale knew the power of written documents. He forged Pan Am letterhead by steaming the logo off a kids toy plane. Pretty low tech you might say, but it convinced Pan Am to let him run a fake flight attendant school and travel all over Europe passing rubber cheques. 

Abagnale consistently demonstrated his brilliance for spotting weaknesses in systems. At one point he bought a cheap security guard outfit, doctored a sign that said 'Safe is broken, please give your daily takings to the guard', went to the airport, hung the sign over the safe and proceeded to wait as all of the businesses happily gave him their takings. He strolled out into the carpark, dumped the cash and cheques into his rental car and drove off. Once again, the power of the printed document is demonstrated. None of the business owners questioned the sign on the safe, they just did what the sign told them to.

So avoid the verbal promises and claims of excellence and, if possible, put it in writing. 

On the same subject, document everything. It's amazing how useful it is when a buyer tries to rewrite history to have a log of every communication in your project management system. Dates, times etc are all incredibly hard to argue against. I know that every time I deal with a certain Telco I note the name of the person I talk to and the exact time I spoke to them. The amount of times I've had that same Telco call up and try to tell me a new version of history is frankly unreal. Having documented notes of what actually transpired has served me really well.

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